How smartphone apps could help you stay healthy

Mobile phone applications (apps) can measure your heart rate, check your blood pressure, and track your diet

What are smartphones and apps and what can they do?

Smartphones are mobile telephones with Internet access. Apps are the phone programs that let you play games, manage your email, and increasingly, monitor your health. Some apps come with the smartphone, but millions more can be downloaded to the phone through a preinstalled program. Look for an “apps” or “store” icon.

What kinds of health apps are available?

  • Deviceless apps
    Some apps require no extra equipment. Whether you want to calculate your calories, measure your sleep time and quality, or check your blood pressure using your smartphone alone, there’s an downloadable app for that. Many people like these types of apps because unlike wearable monitors, such as activity trackers, all you need is your phone, which you probably carry with you anyway.  
  • Device-connected apps
    Some apps require a connecting your phone to separate medical device, such as a blood glucose monitor for people with diabetes. These apps record and store measurements and often convert the data into useful graphs and allow users to share recordings with their health care provider. These apps often come from the device manufacturer, so they are not widely available. 

How should I use smartphone health apps?

“Definitely use them if they help you watch your weight, remind you to take daily medications, or motivate you to walk and exercise,” says Dr. Beverly B. Green, a Group Health physician and Group Health Research Institute associate investigator who studies how technology can support providers and patients in monitoring chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.  But right now, deviceless smartphone apps that measure body functions such as blood pressure are mostly for fun.”

Thoughtful use of apps could help you reach your health goals.

On the other hand, apps that collect readings from an approved medical device recommended by your physician can be clinically useful, says Dr. Green. And smartphones can connect patients and care teams in other ways, such as text message reminders from pharmacists about prescription renewals. However, says Dr. Green, current smartphone apps that directly measure heart rate or blood pressure, for example, need to be validated in many clinical studies before they can be declared reliable.

Health monitoring is moving out of clinics and into homes and communities, though. Blood pressure-measuring stations in drugstores are just one example. As people become frequent users of on-the-go health monitoring, Dr. Green says, smartphone health apps should become more common, accurate, and user-friendly.

 

by Chris Tachibana


Learn more

from Group Health Research Institute

from Group Health Cooperative